In the wake of the significant national coverage that our eviction threat and campaign have recently received, Pemberstone have started responding to media requests for comments. And what they’ve said has largely left us scratching our heads in confusion. None of us on the Oulton Drive estate are Public Relations experts of course, but our instincts tell us that the first rule of public commentary surely must be: get your story straight. Sadly, they seem to have fallen at the first hurdle.
Let’s have a look at what they’ve said:
- In response to the Financial Times article that covered our campaign last week, Pemberstone’s agent said: “the company needed to secure planning permission before it could decide on the tenure of the new homes on the Oulton Drive estate”.
- To The Guardian: If no [social housing associations] are found, Pemberstone intends to carry out the development in phases, building around six homes at a time over the next three to 15 years. “Given the natural turnover of properties and the long-term nature of the redevelopment, it is highly unlikely that any tenants would be asked to move from their home without being offered an equivalent alternative on the same estate,” the company said.
- ITV Calendar: “Social housing organisations will be asked if they want to take over the development, and … it’s unlikely that any tenants will be forced out before the end of their existing agreements”.
- BBC Newsnight: “All tenancy agreements will be honoured, and it’s unlikely that any residents will be expected to vacate their property and leave the estate, just because of natural turnover”
This means that in less than 7 days, Pemberstone has flip-flopped between no decision on tenure, to having a construction plan of six homes at a time over a 3-15 year period (where current tenants will apparently be offered an “equivalent alternative on the same estate”), to declaring that no-one will have to leave their current homes unless they want to. The first possibility offers nothing but prolonged uncertainty. The second and third options are, at best, contradictory and confusing (and, at worst, disingenuous and misleading).
Nowhere is it written into their Planning Application that we would have first refusal of the new homes and that they would be what we, as a low-income tenant community, could afford. In fact, Pemberstone have been careful in their Statement of Community Involvement not to answer those specific questions when they were directly asked by residents. What does seem to be evident (as you can see in the screenshot of part of their planning application below) is that they are making provisions for homes to be sold – 85% at market rate, 15% at an “affordable” rate for new homeowners. Very few families from our community will be in a position to get a mortgage on an “affordable” home, let alone a market rate one.
If a social housing association can purchase the estate, that would be great! But as we have already addressed in an earlier blog, we fear this is unlikely given the projected market value of the new properties. Are negotiations actively happening on this front? Unfortunately, we still have no idea.
And none of these options address the concern that the heritage of the estate needs to be preserved as much as the community. These are iconic post-war Airey prefab houses, and the last of their kind on such a scale. Their demolition without considering possibilities for refurbishment would be an affront to modern British social history.
Finally, we are forced (again) to rebut Pemberstone’s assertions of transience, which is implicitly hinted at in their declaration of “natural turnover”. At least 3 families have lived on the estate for over 50 years. Many more have lived on Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close for more than a decade. Those who have lived here just a few years have children in local schools, jobs within commuting distance, or are retired. Unless Pemberstone have a secret 100-year plan for redevelopment that they’re not telling us about, then they need to stop peddling this nonsense that the residents will suddenly dissipate like students on a halls of residence contract at the end of semester.
We are long-term renters. These are our homes. We’re happy for you to wait until we decide to leave, but be warned Pemberstone: you might be waiting a while.